An Encounter with Pluralism

An Encounter with Pluralism:

Comparison of Israelites and Myanmar Lisu People in the midst of Pluralism




Today, as the empire of 'Globalization' has a far reach on this earth; this ever-on-going dynamic process has been making all the arenas and realities of this globe to be a new picture of unexpected and unpredicted changes. It is also formulating the world to be a better society as well as a worst society as well. Even the skip of this global empire directly based on economical setting, it is on one hand continually and consequently interacting and touching with all the economical, political, social, environmental, educational, technological, intellectual and cultural circles and so on. The play of this vibrant and active process makes here and then something as opportunities or challenges to everyone, every country and especially to every small ethnic group positively and negatively.     

Besides, not only that new blessing, so-called 'globalization' but also other turning point such as 'Pluralism' is also coming into at the very stage of being popularity especially for every religion or country or nation or ethnic group throughout all the land and space of the world. It what's more lets the human society come about a new society day by day. It comes in fact to take place because of the present time and present human beings mostly and then it calls here for emergency again for being comprehended and alerted to every one. This big deal of issue directly and necessarily lays a hand on each human being on this earth. It is, so entirely impractical to transform and build the world without knowing the real nature of pluralism in accordance with the understanding of the past, the present and the future of pluralism. Likely, Lisu people, one of the 136 ethnic groups of Myanmar, here need to be on familiar terms with this dilemma of common worldly affair and evaluate themselves in the midst of their community for knowing that they are also one of the co-living smallest ethnic groups in this world.



I.          Who are the Lisu?

1)             People

According to Burkey Richard, ethnic group is a community group based upon the ascribed status of a diffuse ancestry that is maintained by a shared culture, language, and or phenotype. Ethnicity is also a set of attitudes related to a sense of ancestral identification with a certain segment of human society, from simple food-gathering to complex post-industrial community, ethnicity has persisted.[1]


In the same sense, Lisu, very small ethnic group in this ‘Global Empire,’ Lisu have their own joyful community, a loving shared culture, ways of tradition, language and their own valuable and living identities. Thus, Lisu are also known as 'Yawyin' or, in a few places 'Yobin.' The Lisu are believed to originate from eastern Tibet and Mongolia in Lisu 'Mukuya,' but recent historical linguistic work by Dr. David Bradley indicates that they moved to eastern Tibet/northwestern Yunnan in the 18th century. Not long after that, in the early 19th century, Lisu peoples began moving southwards down the Salween (Shweli) River Valley into northern Myanmar and northern Thailand.[2] Their religion is part animist and ancestor worship; curing took place through shamanism. However, some Lisu converted to Protestant Christians starting in the early 20th century. The first Lisu to be reached by Christian missionaries were the Salween branch of the Lisu in Yunnan Province, China. The Scottish missionary James O. Fraser was the first Christian ever to have Lisu converts in China.

In Myanmar, the first Lisu converts began in Myitkyina. As early as 1898, George J. Geis, an American Baptist Missionary to Kachin in Myitkyina, visited a Lisu village and had taken with the people using the Kachin language. His continuation of contact had resulted in converting a couple named Ngwa Tar and Gu Na Du. According to Geis' report; their baptism took place in October 1902.[3] And they, converted couple settled down six miles north of Myitkyina at a place called Manhkring, the Kachin Christian village in that area. Thus, Manhkring has become the birthplace of Lisu Christianity. Other Lisu baptisms were reported in the following years and Lisu Christians moved down to Manhkring village, where later they established their own Lisu village adjoining that of Kachin. Tegenfeldt gives a footnote to the Lisu churches, 'they were a part of the Manhkring Kachin Baptist Church, although they held some services in their own tongue. After World War II, they formed their own local church, remaining, however, a part of the district association and the Kachin Baptist Convention. In these current days, Lisu have their convention namely 'Lisu Baptist Convention.' This convention is combination of five associations: Mogoke, Myitkyina, Wai Maw, Shan, and Bhamo association.[4]


2)            Beliefs

Religiously speaking, Lisu people are mostly influenced by animist religion. The ancestors of today's Lisu were originally animists. As Gailyn Van Rheenen notes, animists perceive that "all of life is controlled by spiritual powers" and in various ways "seek to manipulate these power."[5] Almost every area of life depends on spirits in the Lisu animistic culture. In spirit worship or practice, the first word charm was "Sar-Wu-Sa," meaning "Three Gods." With this word, "Sar-Wu-Sa," missionaries tried to identify with Trinity, God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. On one hand, worshipping ancestors was transformed into the Christian ways of respecting parents.

            Above and beyond, Lisu religion embraces beliefs and practices related to various categories of spirits (NI:) such as the village guardians, and all powerful Being, called Wu-Sa (WU-S). Like many hill people of Northern part of Southeast Asia. Lisu people also recognize a large of number of spirits (NI:) including those of recently deceased ancestors. There are some Chinese influences in Lisu practice of ancestor propitiation. In ancient days, Lisu were animists. Some in Northern Shan state and Northern Kachin state and Mogoke area are still animists today. There is a belief that forests and hills, rivers, streams and lakes, water and land, villages and houses have guardian spirits (NI:). And the worship of Spirit (NI:) is the main belief in worship. So the spirits are to be worshipped and sacrifices made to them from the time of the birth until they die in order to get all their material, social and spiritual welfare.[6]


3)            Cultural Heritages

There are different kinds of traditional festivals such as naming-ceremony, first-fruit sacrifice, New Year, wedding, and funeral. Out of these festivals, New Year celebration is the most valued and important festival for Lisu people. There is a legendary story in Lisu people concerning New Year festival. After creation of heaven and earth, God descended on earth and sat under pine tree. Then a man saw him and informed all villagers about his finding of God. People slaughtered pigs, distilled liquor and on the eight day all villagers carried pork, liquor, musical instruments and went to the place. God was not there, only his sitting place observed. However they hung pork and bread on the tree under which God had sat and performed and offering and dancing. Every year pine tree would be planted, offering made God searched.

More to the point, Lisu people have their own traditional costume. Both man and woman have beautiful and colorful dressings. Traditional songs (YO-YE) and dances (GW-CE) also play very vital role as Lisu people are well known as singing and dancing people. Concerning with songs (YO-YE), there are different kinds of traditional songs such as New Year song, Spirit-calling song, naming song, wedding song, farewell song, friend meeting song, song of elopement, song of orphan, guest-welcoming song, song of new-crops sacrifice, hunting song and love song. When it comes to dances (GW-CE), likely different there songs are many different kinds of dances depending on occasions.


II.            Pluralistic Veracity?

            1)             What is Pluralism?

The word ‘pluralism’ generally refers to the view that there are many of the things in question (concepts, scientific world views, discourses, viewpoints etc.) The issues rising from there being many differ widely from subject area to subject area. The plurality of religious traditions and cultures has come to characterize every part of the world today. Pluralism also refers to the presence of three or more distinct meaning systems or ideologies setting normative values for an area of social life. Among the most important types of pluralism are moral pluralism in the form of quite different views of appropriate moral conduct; political parties; and religious pluralism, indicated by the presence of a number of faiths in a society.

            Christianity exists and has always existed in the context of a plurality of competing and contrasting religions, but whereas in the past some Christian had an intellectual knowledge of those religions and fewer still and experimental encounters with them, today most Christians have both intellectual and experimental knowledge at least of the major non-Christian religions. This knowledge in turn tends to expel the merely prejudiced view of other religions as primitive and ignorant, with their adherents dissatisfied with their religions and open to conversion.[7]

Religious pluralism is what's more often predictive of moral and political pluralism. Internationally, religious pluralism can negatively evoke bigotry against a whole people whose leaders are at odds with another's. To promote understanding, attempts are made by one country's religious leaders to share beliefs with leaders of different faiths and nations. This cross-cultural communication can be dialogue either for the purpose of increasing in converting the other to one's own faith perspectives. Communication between actual leaders if different traditions may involve dialogue and evangelism, as parties try to listen but also to convince each other of the value of their unique beliefs.[8]

Moreover, religious pluralism (rel. comparative religion) is a loosely defined expression concerning acceptance of different religions, and is used in a number of related ways: As the name of the worldview according to which one's religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth, and thus that at least some truths and true values exist in other religions. As acceptance of the concept that two or more religions with mutually exclusive truth claims are equally valid. This posture often emphasizes religion's common aspects. Sometimes as a synonym for ecumenism, that is the promotion of some level of unity, co-operation, and improved understanding between different religions or different denominations within a single religion. And as a synonym for religious tolerance, which is a condition of harmonious co-existence between adherents of different religions or religious denominations. Adherents of religious pluralism recognize that different religions make different truth claims. For example, most Christians believe that Jesus was God incarnate and that he died for the salvation of humanity, while most Buddhists believe that enlightenment liberates the individual from the cycle of rebirth so that he may enter Nirvana. Although there are approaches that allow for a certain approximation between both beliefs, usually neither Christians claim that Christ leads to Nirvana, nor Buddhists claim that Buddha was an incarnated deity.[9]


2)            Myanmar Lisu People in the midst of Pluralism

When it comes to pluralism, Lisu people from the time of the changing of historical settings from Mongolia to China and then China to Myanmar have been facing pluralistic societies. They have been touching with other people and societies. But from the time of conversion to Christianity, Lisu people in Myanmar were besides fully gospelled to isolate from other society and secular community which were taught to believe as evil society as exclusivists. Today, most Lisu churches and Christians and religious leaders cannot accept secular society and do not participate in any kind of affairs. They are still blinded to adjust and relate between the Word of God and society.

Anyhow, no one can stop the play and impact of Globalization in these days. No one can be isolated. Likely Myanmar people especially Myanmar Lisu people of Today face directly or indirectly the touch secular world and the impact of Globalization. In Myanmar, most of Lisu people live in the areas of Mogoke, Myitkyina, Wai Maw, Bhamo and some live in Shan state. As these Lisu people are daily touched and changed with the ever-on-going process of pluralistic realities through intellectual, educational, social, political, economical vicinities and the collision of modern media. Today, all these out-come products of the Globalization are really providing all with different kinds of powerful pluralistic veracities.

As a result for Lisu people, there have been much changes concerning with moral characters, ethical behaviors, philosophical, social, cultural and religious lives because of pluralistic society. Morally and ethically speaking, most of Lisu young people are one the ways of modern living-styles which are mostly against the will of God. Culturally addressing, most of Lisu people are no longer to love and maintain their lovely God-given cultural heritages. Most of Lisu people those who are living in Yangon, Mandalay and other rural societies cannot speak Lisu language. All the daily living-styles are changed into westernized ways. Religiously to have a word, some Lisu become weak in personal spirituality and churchly lives. Here it can say that every nation, every people and every ethnic group in this world are to face the realities of pluralistic society.


3)            Israelites in the Midst of Pluralism

In the Old Testament, it is clear that throughout each historical setting of Israelites, they also had to face and overcome all the pluralistic realities of their neighbors. At the bondage of Egypt, Israelites were to face different kinds of realities of Egyptians. An encounter with cultural, political, social and religious changes and competition are found along the history of Israelites with others.

Concerning with pluralism in the Old Testament time, the term 'nations,' is as general term indicated for others. The affinity of all nations is stressed in the tradition of Noah's descendants (Gen. 10). In God's covenant with Abraham, his descendants are distinguished from other nations, but not in any narrowly exclusive sense (Gen. 12:2; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). Israel became conscious of being a nation uniquely distinct from others by being separated to God after the Exodus (Dt. 26:5), and the covenant of Sinai (Ex. 19:6). From then on this dedication dominated all her relations with other nations (Ex. 34:10; Lv. 18:24-25; Dt. 15:6).[10]

In addition, the Israelites were constantly tempted to compromise with the idolatry and immorality practiced by other nations (1 Ki. 14:24), so bringing God's judgment on themselves (2 Ki. 17:7ff; Ezk. 5:5ff). On the return from the Exile the danger was still more insidious because of the corruptness of the Jews who had remained in Canaan (Ezk. 6:21). This continual struggle against contamination from their neighbors led to so hard and exclusive an attitude to other nations that by the time of Christ for a Jew to stigmatize his fellow as 'Gentile' (Mt. 18:17) was a term of scorn equal in opprobrium to 'tax-collector' and they earned for themselves from Tacitus the censure that 'they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies.[11]       

Above and beyond, we find a theological pluralism, too. The situation is similar to the New Testament, where we find different Christological perspective: the apocalyptic perspective of Mark, the Salvation history view of Luke-Acts, the Logos Christology of the Johannine literature, or the Pauline theology of divine grace. Just as there is Christological pluralism in the New Testament, so there is theological diversity in the Old Testament. Pluralism in Old Testament time does not arise out of intellectual differences or partisan strife, as is often the case in modern societies rather it is rooted in the fundamental experience of the holy God in the midst of other people. Each of these covenant perspectives: the Priestly, the Mosaic and the royal, nuances the God-human relationship in a different way, with a distinctive symbolic vista. Hence all of them are necessary to express God's relation to Israel, human beings, and the world. If one of them were lacking, the richness of biblical theology would be diminished. Each covenant has its place in the economy of God's saving purpose.[12]

Also, these covenantal perspectives – as it is seen again and again – give expression to certain polarities that are inherent in the experience of the presence of the Holy One in the midst of the people. For instance, in the Abrahamic covenant, we find the polarity of the universal and the particular. The God whose sovereignty is universal chooses to enter into relationship with a particular people, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. The Mosaic covenant evinces the polarity of divine sovereignty and human freedom. The God who is the Sole Power, who is praised as God Almighty (El Shaddai, Gen. 17:1), who calls human beings to responsible freedom. And the Davidic covenant deals with the paradox of divine transcendence and divine immanence. The God who is transcendent or "far off" is also immanent or "near," that is, sacramentally present in the temple and graciously manifest in the rule of Davidic king.[13]

Further, it is wrong to segregate the covenants from each other, on the supposition that they are independent or even antithetical. Some theologians want to separate the Mosaic covenant from the Davidic covenant, on the supposition that the latter is a "fall from grace," or in sociological terms, a lapse into ideology. It may be difficult for us to integrate these covenants, but those who have given us the Scriptures in their final form apparently perceived no fundamental incompatibility depth to the scriptural presentation.[14]           


III.       In Search of a New Matrix

1)            Modern Christianity with Pluralism

In recent years, some Christian groups have become more open to religious pluralism; this has led to many cases of reconciliation between Christians and people of other faiths. The liberalization of many Seminaries and theological institutions, particularly in regards to the rejection of the notion that the Bible is a divinely authored document, has facilitated a much more human-centered and secular movement within mainstream Christian denominations, particularly in the United States. Some mainstream churches no longer hold to exclusivist views on salvation.

The most prominent event in the way of dialogue between religions has arguably been the 1986 Peace Prayer in Assisi to which Pope John Paul II, against considerable resistance also from within the Roman Catholic Church, invited representatives of all world religions. This initiative was taken up by the Community of Sant'Egidio, who, with the support of John Paul II, organized yearly peace meetings of religious representatives. These meetings, consisting of round tables on different issues and of a common time of prayer has done much to further understanding and friendship between religious leaders and to further concrete peace initiatives. In order to avoid the reproaches of syncretism that were leveled at the 1986 Assisi meeting where the representatives of all religions held one common prayer, the follow-up meetings saw the representatives of the different religions pray in different places according to their respective traditions.

Furthermore, there has been much to note in the way of reconciliation between some Christian groups and the Jewish people. Many modern day Christians, including many Catholics and some liberal Protestants, have developed a view of the New Testament as an extended covenant; they believe that Jews are still in a valid relationship with God and that Jews can avoid damnation and earn a heavenly reward. For these Christians, the New Testament extended God's original covenant to cover non-Jews. The article Christian-Jewish reconciliation deals with this issue in detail.

Beside, many Protestant Christian groups hold that only believers which believe in certain fundamental doctrines know the true pathway to salvation. The core of this doctrine is that Jesus Christ was a perfect man, is the Son of God and that he died and rose again for all people's wrongdoing who will accept the gift of salvation. They continue to believe in "one" church, believing in fundamental issues there is unity and non-fundamental issues there is liberty. Some Protestants are doubtful if the Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy are still valid manifestations of the Church and usually reject movements begun within 19th century Christianity, such as Mormonism, Christian Science, or Jehovah's Witnesses as not distinctly Christian. Modern Christian ideas on intra-religious pluralism (between different denominations of Christianity) are discussed in the article on Ecumenism.[15]


2)            Pluralism as Interfaith Dialogue

Religious pluralism is on one hand used as a synonym for interfaith dialogue. Interfaith dialogue refers to dialogue between members of different religions for the goal of reducing conflicts between their religions and to achieve agreed upon mutually desirable goals. Inter-religious dialogue is difficult if the partners adopt a position of particularism, i.e. if they only care about the concerns of their own group, but is favored by the opposite attitude of universalism, where care is taken for the concerns of others. Interfaith dialogue is easier if a religion's adherents have some form of inclusivism, the belief that people in other religions may also have a way to salvation, even though the fullness of salvation can be achieved only in one’s own religion. Conversely, believers with an exclusivist mindset will rather tend to proselytize followers of other religions, rather than seek an open-ended dialogue with them.[16]


3)             In Search of a New Paradigm Shift

            Today, an encounter with Pluralism must be a kind of transformation and building a better God's society with others. It is here four points for Myanmar Lisu people to begin their thinking: first, pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in their societies.

Second, pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. Tolerance is a necessary public virtue, but it does not require Christians and Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and ardent secularists to know anything about one another. Tolerance is too thin a foundation for a world of religious difference and proximity. It does nothing to remove our ignorance of one another, and leaves in place the stereotype, the half-truth, the fears that underlie old patterns of division and violence. In the world in which they live today, their ignorance of other will be increasingly costly.

Third, pluralism is not relativism, but the encounter of commitments. The new paradigm of pluralism does not require them to leave their identities and their commitments behind, for pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding deepest differences, even religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another. Fourth, pluralism is based on dialogue. The language of pluralism is that of dialogue and encounter, give and take, criticism and self-criticism. Dialogue means both speaking and listening, and that process reveals both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean them at the “table” will agree with one another. Pluralism involves the commitment to being at the table with one’s commitments.[17]

Besides, the reality of pluralism will provide with 'an explanation of how and why things got to be as they are and how and why they continue or change.' It will also serve as a basis for evaluation, for judging and validating experience from others. And it will offer psychological reinforcement for a society's ways of life. And it will as well serve integrating functions for new information, values, philosophies and experiences from others.[18]

            In betterment of searching a new paradigm shift in the midst of pluralism for Myanmar Lisu people like Israelites in the Old Testament, Lisu have to adopt the basic 'Lisu must' chart as a new paradigm shift with the memo of Israelites:    

1. Lisu must believe in One God: the Father, the Son Christi, and the Holy Spirit.

2. Lisu must be faithful in living the Words of God.

3. Lisu must love and maintain their identities in the midst of pluralism.

4. Lisu must believe that 'they themselves and all their identities are created by God.

5. Lisu must see and identify Christ in the context of pluralism.

6. Lisu must study about all the facts about pluralism.

7. Lisu must feel a profound and troubled concern for the state of pluralism.

8. Lisu must keep in close touch with pluralism.

9. Lisu must pray, daily invoke God's Will with the play of pluralism.

10. Lisu must live accordance with the ways of Jesus Christ.

11. Lisu must witness to Jesus Christ in the midst of pluralism.

12. Lisu must work for Christ through dialogue.

13. Lisu must remain faithful to God in the midst of pluralism. 

            14. Lisu must love all His creatures including themselves.

As Lisu people have special challenges to face and struggle for the running-race with different kinds of pluralism, it alerts them to find out the ways always to be librated to be the fittest of the age of pluralism with the face of God. For them, they are also called to fulfill the Will of God in their context of pluralism on this earth. They are given their own loving history, language, culture, ways of tradition and religious identities. They must love all identities and their creator God.



            It is now the actual point in time for Lisu people of Myanmar for consciousness to initiate to understand and aware of the realities of pluralism, as core for living and building a better God's willed-world with the regard of God's creature with the right, practical and modern dealings. Here what the most important thing is to know about God's Will upon pluralism. Treating practical and real pluralistic awareness and responses are urgently needed for 'they themselves. It is beyond question that pluralism at last covers and concerns with the common truth of God for all countries, religions, nations and ethnics. Here, Lisu people in their community must be on initiating-point as they have God-given images to play the most important role and it is then needed to share God's love with others like Israelites. Their daily lifestyles with the right conduct of authentic Christian ethical characters and behaviors will be the most effective matrix for all corners of pluralism. And covenanting with pluralism will be also a kind of public welfare as mass transformation for common mutual realities. At this time, all the right acts to pluralism will wrap up not only for the sake of a better world but also for the goodness and growth of inter-religious and inter-national and inter-ethnic realities with the truthfulness of understanding the essence of co-existence and co-operation everywhere around the world in order to fulfill God's Will. 







Anderson, Bernhard W. "Contours of Old Testament Theology." Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999.

Bruse F. F. ed., "New Bible Dictionary." Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996.

Fish Simon. "Introduction the Principles of Church Growth to Lisu Baptist Convention." D. Min Thesis: Myanmar Institute of Theology, 2007.  

Kraft Charles H. Christianity in Culture: A Study in Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1979.

Moreau A Scott, ed., "Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions." Michigan: Baker Books, 2000.  

Rheenen Gailyn Van, Communicating Christ in Animist Contexts. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1991.

Richard Burkey M, Ethnic and Racial Group. London: Cumming Pub: Com, 1978.

Russell Letty M. ed., Dictionary of Feminist Theology, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.

Yang  Joshua. "Jesus and Lisu." D. Min Thesis, Saint Paul School of Theology, 1975. 

Zi  Wa Ye.  Animism in Lisu beliefs. BD Thesis: Myanmar Institute of Theology, 1994. _is_pluralism.php accessed on September 19, 2008. accessed on September 19, 2008., accessed on September 19, 2008.




[1] Burkey Richard M, Ethnic and Racial Group, (London: Cumming Pub: Com, 1978), 25.

[2] "," accessed on September 19, 2008.

[3] Joshua Yang, "Jesus and Lisu," (D. Min Thesis, Saint Paul School of Theology, 1975), 45. 

[4] Simon Fish, "Introduction the Principles of Church Growth to Lisu Baptist Convention," (D. Min Thesis: Myanmar Institute of Theology, 2007), 57.  

[5] Gailyn Van Rheenen, Communicating Christ in Animist Contexts, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1991), 96.

[6] Wa Ye Zi, Animism in Lisu beliefs, (BD Thesis: Myanmar Institute of Theology, 1994), 7-9.

[7] A Scott Moreau, ed., "Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions," (Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 761.  

[8] Letty M. Russell, ed., Dictionary of Feminist Theology, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 210.

[10] F. F. Bruse, ed., "New Bible Dictionary," (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), 414.

[11] Ibid. 

[12] Bernhard W. Anderson. "Contours of Old Testament Theology," (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 239.

[13] Ibid., 239-240.

[14] Ibid., 240.

[18] Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture: A Study in Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective, (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1979), 54.